Nine days ago, Brendan wrote about the Celtics’ playoff rotation, surmising it would come down to this crew:
If last night is any indication, Brendan surmised right. Against the Hornets, in something close to a must-win game, Doc Rivers locked down that exact rotation, save the injured Shaquille O’Neal.
Even though it was the second half of a back-to-back, or SEGABABA, in CH parlance, Rivers ran Ray Allen out there for 44 minutes, Kevin Garnett for 36 and Paul Pierce for 35.
Could this be the path forward for the Celtics over the last 14 games of the regular season?
Full speed ahead?
There are three directives over this final stretch of play.
1. Secure optimal playoff seeding.
2. Lock down playoff rotations and player (Green, West, Krstic) usage for the playoffs.
3. Get everyone as rested and healthy as possible (see also: Rondo, pinkie)
As much as we’ve talked about the competing priorities of health and seeding all year, weirdly, they’ve not been significant concerns until recently. The Celtics spent most of the season behind the Spurs and ahead of everyone else. But now, slumping for reasons much-discussed but not entirely clear, Boston has to decide how best to position itself going forward.
Over the next week, the Celtics play Monday (@Knicks), Wednesday (Grizzlies), Friday (Bobcats), Sunday (@T-Wolves). The week after, there are two back-to-backs on the schedule but these next four could/should all go in the win column.
Does it make sense to stick primarily to a playoff rotation and really go after these next four games? You could, in theory, do just that while downshifting certain starters’ minutes.
For example, take Rondo. West has played well, and still needs as many minutes as he can get before the playoffs, not just for continuity but conditioning. It doesn’t feel like it because we’ve been talking about him all year, but West has still only played 11 games since November. If his play can keep Rondo under 30 minutes a night, does it make sense to lean more heavily on him?
Maybe. Maybe not. From Jackie MacMullan’s piece on ESPN Boston last night:
West checked out with 9 points (on 4-of-5 shooting), 5 assists and 1 rebound in 19 minutes, but confessed it will be a while before he’s feeling physically healed.
“I’m a left-handed player and I like to spring off my right leg,’’ West explained, “but I can’t get the lift I want just yet. And I’m also running around with a brace on my right arm.
“I tried to jump and dunk, but then I see [Emeka] Okafur and I start getting timid about hitting the ground.’’
West said his ankle is “getting stronger every day,’’ and he’s hopeful the spring in his jump will return before the year is out.
And then there’s Green. In his New Orleans game preview, Hayes made the point that Green’s recent offensive outbursts have been overshadowed by the recent losses. His last three games:
But look at those moderate minute-totals. There’s no reason why he can’t come off the bench, but play starters minutes, while giving Pierce and Garnett extra pine time.
After all, there’s still much to figure out with Green and little time to do it. From Peter May on Friday:
“I’m still learning how best to use him,” Rivers said before his team headed to Texas for a Friday night meeting with the Houston Rockets. “He can do so many different things in so many different ways.”
Rivers said he had never had someone like Green, especially as a weapon coming off the bench. He can score, as he showed Wednesday when he had a 13-point quarter, a 17-point half and was on course to become the first Celtics reserve in the new Big Three era to go for 30 points. (Leon Powe did it near the end of the 2008-09 season, but he did so as a starter.)
Then, in the second half, Green took two shots. He finished with 19 points. There’s a Garnett-ian, unselfish streak in Green, what Rivers calls “his passive-aggressive thing.” The coach said he’s working on triggering the aggressive part of Green as he experiments with how to use the 6-foot-9 forward.
So, there’s an idea. Tighten up the bench for the next week, up the minutes for Green and West and go win these four games. Troy Murphy, Carlos Arroyo, Sasha Pavlovic and co. can stay on the bench unless fouls/spot situations make it absolutely necessary to play them. Then the Celtics can reassess things going into the following week.